Sunday, 21 May 2017

Kinds Of Interstellar Adversaries

Whereas Poul Anderson's green, tailed Merseians were saved from supernova radiation by the Polesotechnic League, gained the hyperdrive from Technic civilization and strive to supplant the Terran Empire, James Blish's blue nine-foot Malans rule a confederation older than humanity and even than the extinct Martians and admit to that confederation only civilizations of demonstrated stability.

Of Anderson's future histories, only the Technic History shows future humanity facing a hostile interstellar empire whereas Blish imagined:

Earthmen overthrowing the Vegan Tyranny but later displaced by the Web of Hercules;

the Hegemony of Malis and a telepathic Central Empire occupying the galactic centre in different strands of the Haertel Scholium;

the Green Exarchy ruling half of humanity's worlds from the far side of the galaxy in yet another strand.

For the Angels with whom Earthmen unite against the Malans and a comparable Andersonian being, see here.

Kinds Of Interstellar Craft

Dominic Flandry's private spaceship, the Hooligan:

moves through the Technic History version of hyperspace;
is fast, spacious and luxurious;
has cabins, a galley, a gym and a stateroom.

Flandry's servant cooks and serves meals and dresses his employer for dinner.

In James Blish's The Star Dwellers, Howard Langer's personal cruiser, the Ariadne:

has an FTL Haertel overdrive;
also has Nernst generators as big as those in a liner, taking up more than half its space;
has a control cabin barely large enough for a crew of three, coffin-like personal cabins and no room for passengers;
is small, streamlined and bullet-like for fast atmospheric transit.

When the same three men make the two-year, sixty thousand light year round trip to the galactic centre, they need a liner-sized ship full of cavernous storage areas.

Kinds Of Interstellar Conflicts

I have just reached a point in James Blish's The Star Dwellers where the hero's mentor, Howard Langer, comments on space opera and could even be referring directly to Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry series. However, I discussed this passage in March 2013. See here. I found the post by searching the blog for the phrase, "Utter nonsense..."

See also the combox for that earlier post. By now, it is possible that a third sf author has written a novel taking into account the kinds of interstellar conflicts described both by Anderson and by Blish. I have not kept up with more recent sf but still find plenty to discuss from the Campbell era.

Endless Comparisons

Because I find it more convenient to read a book in the hand than an ebook on screen and because I prefer sf to detective fiction, I have easily been diverted from reading Poul Anderson's Murder In Black Letter to rereading James Blish's The Star Dwellers while comparing:

Blish's Haertel overdrive with Anderson's Mach drive;
Jack Loftus with Dominic Flandry;
Jack's mentor, Howard Langer, with Flandry's mentor, Max Abrams;
the Hegemony of Malis with the Roidhunate of Merseia;
Anderson's, Niven's and Blish's feline aliens (Blish's remain quadrupedal).

Other comparisons and contrasts are possible. Flandry's contemporary, John Ridenour, reflects that the universe produces sophonts as casually as snowflakes. Langer goes further, claiming that intelligences arises wherever it can. In Langer's period, the evidence has proved him right but he claims that this was expected. Is it?

For heuristic purposes, Blish's foreign service cadets are under an oath of celibacy whereas Flandry is anything but. In fact, Abrams plans to make Machiavellian use of his assistant's sexual activity: have the Ensign sent Home in disgrace - carrying military intelligence with him under the noses of the appeasers.

Blish's industrialist, McCrary, has got one of the energy beings called Angels to inhabit and control a fusion plant for him and wants to employ Angels to do this all over Earth whereas the Secretary for Space more prudently wants a treaty with the Angelic race or nation first. Would Anderson's capitalists be more cautious? CS Lewis (the character) knows that his friend, Elwin Ransom, receives visits and communications from extra-planetary angels and fears that Ransom is a beachhead for invasion. In the horror sf of Quatermass, any alien visitation could only be a threat.

Tomorrow, I will travel to Birmingham by train, carrying a book but not my laptop.

Feline Aliens

Why are Starkadian Tigeries called that? Their description is in Ensign Flandry, Chapter Four:

like a short man;
disproportionately long legs;
four-fingered hands;
large clawed feet;
stubby tail;
round head;
flat face;
narrow chin;
large slanted eyes;
scarlet irises;
fronded tendrils;
small nose;
single nostril;
wide mouth;
carnivore teeth;
large ears resembling bat-wings;
sleek black-striped orange fur, white at the throat.

I do not remember any of these details while reading the novel. I suppose it is a bit like an anthropomorphic tiger. An exercise would be to reread the description in The Game Of Empire to check whether it adds or contradicts.

Other Feline Aliens
Larry Niven's kzinti - Anderson wrote three kzin stories.
James Blish's Martian dune cats in Welcome To Mars, Aaa in The Star Dwellers and Chrestos in The Warriors Of Day.

Mach? II

See Mach?

Since there was an Ernst Mach, since Blish clearly refers to this real Mach and since the Mach referred to by Anderson also propounded a theory concerning the inertial frame of the entire universe, I am obliged to conclude that all three Machs are identical after all.

I had been misled into thinking that Anderson had invented a different Mach because it is usual, in sf, to supersede Einstein by appealing to imaginary post-Einsteinian discoveries - e.g., Blish refers to the fictional Haertel -, not by reverting to a pre-Einsteinian theoretician which is what Ernst Mach is. Live and learn. It is late so that is all from me tonight.

Saturday, 20 May 2017


Faster than light travel in Poul Anderson's The Star Fox and Fire Time is based on the theory of a man called Mach and is described here and here but I think that this must be a different Mach from the one mentioned by James Blish in The Star Dwellers:

the twentieth-century British astronomer, Milne, transformed the Lorenz-Fitzgerald expression of Einsteinian relativity from a natural law into a teaching convenience;

Adolph Haertel, by applying "Mach's axiom" or "the cosmological assumption," showed that the light-barrier disappeared if the whole mass of the universe was taken into account;

engineers inserted various values for M into Haertel's equations until they found one that worked.

This does not sound as if it should work but does sound like another of Anderson's various rationales for FTL. See here.

Cosmic Questions

Reading is unpredictable. Rereading The Star Dwellers was not on my agenda. However, recently (here), we contemplated:

"...the song the worlds sang..." (SM Stirling);
the "Song Of The Earth" (Elliot S! Maggin);
the Great Dance (CS Lewis);
the music of the spheres (I think) (James Blish) -

- and wondered whether Poul Anderson's Aycharaych has a telepathic equivalent of cosmic song, dance or music.

Trying to find the music of the spheres led to rereading The Star Dwellers. Anyone who enjoys Poul Anderson's interstellar sf, e.g., his Dominic Flandry series, should definitely read Blish's equivalent works. Jack Loftus begins as a foreign service cadet and winds up confronting the Hegemony of Malis. Dominic Flandry begins as a Terran Space Navy Ensign and winds up confronting the Roidhunate of Merseia. In both cases, the universe is shown to be full of interesting intelligent life forms and the nature of civilization is discussed. Blish and Anderson show us the cosmos and ask ultimate questions.

Juvenile SF

Heinlein, Asimov, Blish and Anderson wrote juvenile sf, Anderson less than the others:

one Time Patrol installment;
three Technic History stories;
"Escape the Morning" (see here, here, here and here);
Vault of The Ages.

I mention this because I am rereading James Blish's The Star Dwellers, which is Heinleinian in:

its insistence that education should not be painless and that car drivers should know calculus;
its pairing of a teenage cadet with an older mentor;
its presentation of a private company exploiting space and also of a Secretary for Space coping with potential interstellar crises -

- and I wish that our crises were interstellar, not just Terrestrial.

Dynamic Diversity

(Lancaster: Dalton Square, Queen Victoria, Town Hall.)

Today there will be a celebration of diversity in Lancaster. (Later: see here.) The City Council meets in the Town Hall. We will assemble in Dalton Square. Sometimes also there are gatherings in Market Square where the former Town Hall is now the City Museum.

From Monday to Thursday, I will be in Birmingham, a city that usually inspires posts comparing its diversity to that of Poul Anderson's multi-species Terran Empire. This time, I might learn more about that city's Tolkien connection. But I might not have much access to a computer while there.

The current agenda is to continue reading Anderson's Murder In Black Letter, then to read the next two volumes of SM Stirling's Emberverse series. As John Carter says, "We still live!"